Learning About Residents’ Needs with American Campus

Jason Wills of American Campus Communities discusses industry trends for 2020, the company’s go-to approach for meeting residents’ needs and its Greek Leadership Village program.

Jason Wills, Chief Marketing Officer, ACC. Image courtesy of ACC

Jason Wills, Chief Marketing Officer, ACC. Image courtesy of ACC

With more than 200 student housing properties across the country in its portfolio, American Campus Communities (ACC) prides itself on being an owner, manager and developer of student housing properties that constantly listens to residents’ needs. The process is strengthened by the company’s comprehensive database of 130,000 residents.

In addition, ACC has recently celebrated one year since it launched the Greek Leadership Village (GLV)  program, the student-led initiative offering meeting spaces, council offices, retail space and housing facilities to support growth and development of the Arizona State University’s (ASU) sorority and fraternity community. 

In an interview with Multi-Housing News, Jason Wills, Chief Marketing Officer at ACC, said that “research has shown that Greek organization members are more likely to graduate on time, participate in student government, volunteer and start their careers right after graduation.” Wills also shares his views on student housing development and amenities trends as we head into 2020.

Tell us about the GLV program. What role do Greek organizations play in university life and how has the program impacted students’ life?

Wills: Roughly 800,000 students are involved in undergraduate fraternities and sororities across the country. Many Greek communities are in need of university-supported innovative spaces that unite the students’ commitment to leadership and service. ASU’s vision was to create a new Greek Life model that could support these needs of such multi-faceted communities, placing an importance on innovated and immersed spaces helping to cultivate a healthy and collaborative student housing experience. 

Since fall 2018, ASU GLV has been able to promote organizational stability and mutual accountability. The gated complex is made up of 27 individual chapter houses in contiguous three- and four-story townhomes. A 28th townhome space offers staff apartments and hotel space for visiting Greek national representatives, as well as maintenance space. In total, the GLV comprises 951 beds in predominantly traditional double-occupancy units. 

The complex also includes a 33,000-square-foot community center that offers meeting, office and event space for all 75 Greek organizations at ASU. It includes two fully landscaped courtyards, shaded barbecue areas and outdoor fire pits, as well as various outdoor seating. The courtyards are available to all Greek organizations for planned events or casual studying and socializing, whether they live in the GLV campus or not. The Village also features abundant bicycle storage within the fenced perimeter.

Currently there are more than 25 culturally based organizations with a Latinx, African American, Native American, Asian American or LGBTQA focus. This is an investment that is helping ensure Greek life at ASU reflects a more inclusive and diverse student body. 

A new trend gaining momentum is the increase in international student enrollment. How does this cohort’s preferences in amenities differ from domestic students?

Wills: Most international students do not come with vehicles, so this is in line with what we’re seeing broadly in student trends. Our properties are typically located on campus or in close walking distance. We are providing less parking spaces and more bicycle storage and pick-up, drop-off areas for ride sharing.

What is your go-to approach for covering residents’ needs?

Wills: ACC’s priorities include providing purpose-built communities close to campus locations and crucial resources for student success and academic achievement. One of the benefits of being the largest student housing company in the U.S. is our ability to survey and receive feedback from our database of more than 130,000 residents annually to help shape our current and future amenity strategy for our properties.

We have seen a rise in popularity in student needs for health, wellness and academic resources. Learning about our residents’ new priorities, we have focused our amenity offerings in these areas. For example, all of our properties are designed with Academic Success Centers that give students the option to study individually in a quiet space or have access to other spaces for organized or informal group study. In addition, our fitness centers come with state-of-the-art equipment that we purchase for quality, durability and longevity. Our fitness centers incorporate both cardio and strength-training options for residents, along with spin bikes and areas for body weight exercise to accommodate health and wellness priorities among our residents.  

As we head into 2020, how do you see the student housing industry changing? What amenities will be most prevalent?

Wills: A year since its opening, GLV has proven to be a successful new model for the future of university Greek communities. Given previous discourse around Greek life, we saw an opportunity to create transformative impact by embracing it and quite literally helping build a solution.

Regarding the future of amenities, property location has always been our most important amenity. Our entire portfolio is located within 10 miles to campus and being pedestrian to campus is one of our primary investment criteria.

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In addition, with connectivity, health, wellness and academic priorities being prevalent across college student needs, we have already begun to pilot future forward partnerships to provide innovative solutions and amenities catering to those areas. For example, incorporating more mobility solutions into our properties such as our partnership with Uber’s JUMP bicycles at the University of Texas at Austin, which will provide a more healthy, affordable and sustainable transportation option for students to move around on and off campus.

Streaming and gaming have also severely increased over the last few years becoming a staple commodity in the home. This has led us to invest in more robust Wi-Fi bandwidth. Innovation and efficiency will of course always be at the forefront of ACC values. We will continue to follow our sustainable philosophy developing efficient and purposeful well into the future. This year we’re opening two LEED Platinum communities, LightView at Northeastern University in Boston and Plaza Verde, an on-campus development at the University of California Irvine, which will also be our first Net Zero energy community. 

As we go into 2020, we believe the benefits of creating thoughtful purpose-built environments and communities will begin to truly be seen across the spectrum from industry consumer. 

What can we expect from the industry in terms of development going into 2020?

Wills: Our developments always implement design guidelines that create a sense of place and community for our residents. We have seen many multifamily developers starting to take cues from student housing in developing communities that promote socialization and community rather than the traditional model of separation and privacy. We believe that student housing is developing solutions for housing that will be adopted by the broader multifamily housing industry in the years to come.

Reports show that many universities offer—or are planning to offer—LGBTQ student housing. Is this something American Campus provides or considers providing going forward?

Wills: We have developed many types of themed housing communities and typically follow the lead of the universities we serve. However, regardless of a community’s theme or approach, we always strive to provide inclusive communities that meet our residents’ needs. 

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